Saturday, February 2, 2008

Summer program application essay

I changed a few phrases for the final draft, since I wasn’t allowed to copy-and-paste and ended up retyping the whole essay. The prompt was why I've picked China and Chinese, why this program (in Harbin), what are my goals for it, and how am I going to accomplish those goals. Hopefully it's not too bad of an essay.


Chinese has always attracted me. My parents worked in China before I was born, and then when I was two and my brother had just been born, we moved back for a year. I only have brief, little-kid memories of it, so whenever I heard things about China growing up, it made me imagine all the things I couldn't remember. Sometimes my parents would tell secrets over the dinner table in what was probably broken Chinese, but it sounded fantastic to me. That mystical aura extended into a deep respect for China: it was almost a part of me, and learning about it was like being introduced to a distant relative who I hadn't met yet.

It was still a long road from basic interest to actual application. In elementary school, I had an advanced class once a week in which we learned bits of logic, critical thinking, and foreign languages. With no application to real life, French, Italian, and Spanish all left a bad taste in my mouth. Then for most of high school I lived in Florida and had tons of opportunity to use Spanish, but my teachers were so bad that I can honestly say that the biggest regret of my life was taking a fourth year of Spanish senior year. But now not only am I taking another foreign language, I'm actually studying abroad and am applying for this summer program, too!

For me, learning Chinese is a reckless foray into the unconquerable region of foreign languages, and success in this area will not only give me confidence to pursue the rest of human knowledge, but will also feed itself, so that if I return to the States able to communicate in a way I had never before imagined--who knows where it might take me? As of today, I'd say my hold on Chinese is tenuous. I can't really get around in China, I can't really hold up a conversation in Chinese, and I don't really feel comfortable with Chinese culture yet. I've been planning on adding a major in Chinese when I get back to UF, but I'm wary of counting on that to improve my skills more than immersion. Moreover, I have to pass an equivalency test to get credit for the third-year Chinese which I'll cover here, and without a summer's worth of vocabulary, I doubt there would be enough overlap from this semester's words alone to make me pass. A summer term, as you can see, could be the tipping point from whim to major, and not just any summer term. I crave the rigor that CET's program provides. I enjoy my studies here in Chengdu, but compared to taking all AP classes senior year and being valedictorian or taking twenty credits freshman year of college, this semester feels like a breeze, even though I'm in China. Without an immersion experience I don't know if I could take myself seriously. I've been viewing this semester as a warm-up to the intensive language study that I'll be doing in the summer, and I think that if I were rejected, my disappointment would carry over to this semester too. I hesitate to put things in such strong terms, because I don't want to sound desperate, but at the same time I do want to emphasize how important for me this summer will be.

If I allow myself to dream of what I might be able to accomplish, my ambitions get pretty vague. I'm an English major now and could see myself becoming a teacher, or professor, or lawyer, or pastor. Adding a Chinese possibility doesn't phase me, but I don't know what that would look like. This semester in Chengdu I'm covering three semesters'-worth of Chinese, so I'm improving so fast that it's hard to gauge where I'll be by the end of the semester, let alone by the end of the summer. I think it would be amazing to be able to write stories in Chinese, or to translate for people, or to do some kind of intercultural relations work, but those seem reserved for speakers native to both languages. I told people before I left that it was my goal to be able to come back and say, "I speak Chinese." You don't have to be fluent to say you know Chinese, but if someone starts talking to you, you'd better be able to talk back. I think that's the most concrete my goals are at this point. As I develop relationships with Chinese people this semester, though, maybe I'll have more specific areas that I want to see developed. Right now I'm still trying to figure out how to order food reliably or tell the maintenance guys what's broken. Even when I don't know how to say "outlet", though, I still see the magic of Chinese, and think that this program would be the perfect next step.


S. A. P. said...

I'd accept you into my program.

Katie Lee said...

Hey Will! I just found this, and I probably won't leave many comments, but I will be following this blog. Hope it keeps letting you post.

T.C. said...

Will, just so you know, you've become the topic of many Monday night dinner conversations. Personally im blown away at your accomplishment of immersing yourself in Chinese, thats awesome. quick Question about China tho, its something you might want to address in your next column no doubt. Seeings how your in China if you want to order Chinese food do you just look in the phone book under "Food"

(i'll just let that joke sink in)